Situation Report

A weekly digest of national security, defense, and cybersecurity news from Foreign Policy reporters Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer, formerly Security Brief. Delivered Thursday.

Obama to outline big nuke cuts today; DOD civilian owes $500k – to DOD; Petraeus to Team Rubicon; Hastings, dead; Say goodbye, Rambo; Tara Sonenshine on “bottom line diplomacy;” and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold In Berlin today, Barack Obama will outline plans for further cuts to the U.S. nuclear arsenal. But, counter the expectations of some wonks who suggested he might make the reductions unilaterally, the president wants Russia to respond in kind. Obama will propose a one-third reduction in strategic nuclear warheads – on top ...

By Gordon Lubold

By Gordon Lubold

In Berlin today, Barack Obama will outline plans for further cuts to the U.S. nuclear arsenal. But, counter the expectations of some wonks who suggested he might make the reductions unilaterally, the president wants Russia to respond in kind. Obama will propose a one-third reduction in strategic nuclear warheads – on top of the cuts already required by the New START treaty – bringing the number of deployed warheads to about 1,000. (At its peak, the U.S. arsenal was a total of 32,000 warheads, in 1966.) It sounds like a big cut, but last year the AP reported that the White House was considering a reduction to as low as 300 warheads, which would have necessitated a major shift in the military’s nuke doctrine. One question now is how much effect the president’s proposed reduction — and the nuclear weapons employment guidance he has issued with it — will have on who, what, and how the Pentagon targets with U.S. nukes.

Obama, in 2009, spoke of trying to rid the world of nuclear weapons. Those who want him to pursue greater reductions may see hope in his dusting off those first-term ambitions. But his speech today will reflect a more pragmatic view of the global and domestic politics of nuclear reduction. "This speech offers another reminder that the President views his ‘Prague Agenda’ as a key element of his historical legacy. Everyone understands, however, the formidable challenges that lie ahead in converting his words into concrete achievements," an administration official told FP this morning.

In the broad policy speech, Obama will also say that the U.S. must continue to work to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, including efforts to isolate both Iran and North Korea. He will also push for a bipartisan effort to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and call once again for all countries to begin negotiations on a new treaty to end the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons. "The President has determined that we can ensure our security and that of our allies and maintain a strong, credible strategic deterrent while safely pursuing up to a one-third reduction in deployed strategic nuclear warheads below the New START Treaty level," according to briefing documents provided to FP on the speech. "We will seek to negotiate these reductions with Russia to continue to move beyond Cold War nuclear postures." Obama will also announce also say that he will participate in the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit in the Hague, as well as host a Nuclear Security Summit in his last year in office, in 2016, "to continue progress with our international partners in securing nuclear materials and preventing nuclear terrorism," according to the briefing documents.

Welcome to Wednesday’s edition of Situation Report. Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail us. And as always, if you have a report, piece of news, or a tidbit you want teased, send it to us early for maximum tease. Please follow us @glubold. And remember, if you see something, say something — to Situation Report.

Obama defended the NSA’s surveillance programs in Berlin today. Obama said that "lives have been saved" due to the surveillance programs. "We know of at least 50 threats that have been averted," he said, including those targeting the U.S. and in other countries, like Germany, where he made the remarks during a joint appearance with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Many in Europe and especially Germany have reacted harshly to the disclosure of the Obama administration’s surveillance programs. Obama and Merkel discussed the programs privately in their bi-lat. Merkel said she told Obama that Internet monitoring must have proper limits. "I made clear that although we do see the need for gathering information, the topic of proportionality is always an important one and the free democratic order is based on people feeling safe," Merkel said at the news conference, as quoted by Reuters. "That’s why the question of balance and proportionality is something we will continue to discuss and where we have agreed further exchange of information between the German Interior Ministry and the authorities concerned in the United States."

For his part, Obama said both surveillance programs, the monitoring of phone records and Internet activity, are subject to strict legal oversight and are limited in their scope. And Obama reiterated what the administration has said on the issue thus far, that it is striking the proper balance between national security and privacy.

From the Department of David Petraeus’ Resurrection comes this news: he has just joined Team Rubicon, a disaster response organization that matches veterans and rapidly deploys them to disaster areas, like in Moore, Okla. Rubicon was co-founded by William McNulty and Jake Wood, and Wood is its president. Both men were non-comms who served under Petraeus in Iraq "as part of his bold surge strategy," Wood said in a press release. "We’re honored to have General Petraeus join the team… we look forward to him bringing the same creativity to help us solve our major strategic questions going forward, Wood said. Petraeus: "’TR’ is an extraordinary organization, one that both serves our nation when its communities are most in need and serves our veterans be reuniting them to once again perform missions that are larger than self." The press release, here.

Mike Hastings is dead. The Rolling Stone contributor whose article, "The Runaway General" led to the end of Stan McChrystal’s military career, died in a fiery, single-car car accident in the early morning hours of Los Angeles’ Hancock Park area. Hastings catapulted to prominence after his story in the magazine portrayed McChrystal and his aides as cavalier toward civilian authority, including off-hand remarks about Vice President Joe Biden and Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Dick Holbrooke. Hastings was either seen as a journalistic saint for courageously reporting the truth of what went on inside McChrystal’s command of the war in Afghanistan, or as an unscrupulous hack with no "skin in the game" who unfairly quoted comments the speakers didn’t think would make it to print. Either way, he made history. Hastings, 33, was a writer at BuzzFeed. His top 10 tips for aspiring journalists, here.

Rambo is over. Next up: female SEALs? Representatives from each of the services, Special Operations Command and the Office of the Secretary of Defense gathered in the Pentagon briefing room to talk about their implementation plans for removing the exclusion of women in combat. Maj. Gen. Bennet Sacolick, the director of force management for SOCOM, indicated that while the command "applauds" DOD’s decision to allow women in combat, it also has some "genuine concerns" that must be addressed before SOCOM can make an informed recommendation on implementation in the name of preserving unit readiness, cohesion and morale.

Sacolick: "Of particular concern is our mission set, which predominantly requires our forces to operate in small, self-contained teams, many of which are in austere, geographically isolated, politically sensitive environments for extended periods of time.  This complexity requires a unique assessment predicated upon detailed analysis, ultimately providing a single, clear, consistent procedure for execution throughout the SOCOM enterprise. Because our forces are inherently joint, a decision made by a single service can have rippled effects across the SOCOM enterprise.  Therefore, we have and will continue to work closely with the services as we move forward."

Sacolick said "the days of Rambo are over," meaning effective SOCOM operators are ones who can learn a foreign language, understand culture and work with indigenous populations, and "culturally attune manners."

Sacolick, on women’s performance: "…But women quite a bit — quite frankly, I was encouraged by just the physical performance of some of the young girls that aspire to go into the cultural support teams.  They very well may provide a foundation for ultimate integration.  And in the second part of your question truly is — I just want this process to work.  I don’t know where it’s going to be."

Hack and Flack – tomorrow night. The "periodic gathering for Hacks (news media), Flacks (public affairs types) and other invited guests mostly from the national security and public safety communities, is on Thursday night at the usual place, 600 Maryland Ave. SW Tower Penthouse (at the L’Enfant Metro) from 6-9 pm. Off the record. Refreshments of all kinds provided, a $10 "contribution" is a good idea. @washingtonflack.

Does one military civilian in Europe really owe DOD $500,000? In a word, yes. A DOD audit in January showed that 659 DOD civilians who had been paid a housing allowance to which the audit found they are not entitled. Technically, DOD wants the money back, but is urging the civilians to file for a waiver. If they don’t, they could risk having to pay the money back to DOD. Situation Report is told that one civilian worker owes more than a half-million dollars over several years. A Pentagon official tells Situation Report that "The Department encourages impacted employees to submit their requests for waivers of indebtedness."

Typically, if the Department pays an employee erroneously, that employee is liable for the overpayments. The particular circumstances to this case, however, have dictated that DOD will allow the civilians to apply for a waiver for the payment. But they have to apply. "Although a blanket waiver cannot be provided, the Department supports forgiveness of indebtedness in these unique circumstances," the official said. "If employees have further concerns they should address those concerns to their chains of command."

In the words of Gen. Phillip Breedlove, commander of U.S. European Command and Supreme Allied Commander, the civilians received the extra housing allowance "through no fault of their own." Breedlove has appealed to the Pentagon leadership to let the civilians off the hook. In a June 5 memo obtained by Stripes newspaper, Breedlove wrote to Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter: "The upcoming loss of many of these people within the next year has a readiness impact on EUCOM Headquarters and Service Component Staffs – an impact that translates to increased cost to the Government to move and train replacement personnel at a time of significantly stressed fiscal account."

Tara Sonenshine made one of her last big speeches before departing State. The Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs spoke at CSIS yesterday to explain what "public diplomacy" really is. Sonenshine: "I have come to think of the work I do as ‘bottom line diplomacy’ because the allocation of resources is an important part of any equation – not only because of our continuing economic recovery but because we need to justify public expenditure to our only governing board – the American people. And we have clear results that demonstrate value.

"Standing up for workers’ rights and high labor standards, more broadly shared economic opportunity, and human rights is both right and moral, but it is also smart and strategic. Studies show that when we build inclusive economies, safeguard freedoms, invest in education, and encourage opportunity, people become more healthy, productive, democratic, empowered, and prosperous. They are more likely to become viable economic, trade, social, political and strategic partners, enhancing security and prosperity for all." Transcript of her full remarks, here.


  • Bloomberg: Pentagon shoots down Kerry’s Syrian airstrike plan.
  • The New Republic: Boondoggle goes boom: A demented tale of how the Army actually does business (D-SIGS).
  • Breaking Defense: Marines launch drive to shove down F-35 costs. 
  • Battleland: How the Iraq war got off on the wrong foot.
  • The New Yorker: Axis of Intervention: why we shouldn’t join the war in Syria.
  • Defense News: USAF may use V-22s for combat rescue mission.  
  • Duffel Blog: Staff officer excited to pull shift in guard tower. 

Gordon Lubold is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He is also the author of FP's Situation Report, an e-mailed newsletter that is blasted out to more than 70,000 national security and foreign affairs subscribers each morning that includes the top nat-sec news, breaking news, tidbits, nuggets and what he likes to call "candy." Before arriving at FP, he was a senior advisor at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, where he wrote on national security and foreign policy. Prior to his arrival at USIP, he was a defense reporter for Politico, where he launched the popular Morning Defense early morning blog and tip-sheet. Prior to that, he was the Pentagon and national security correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, and before that he was the Pentagon correspondent for the Army Times chain of newspapers. He has covered conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries in South Asia, and has reported on military matters in sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and Latin America as well as at American military bases across the country. He has spoken frequently on the sometimes-contentious relationship between the military and the media as a guest on numerous panels. He also appears on radio and television, including on CNN, public radio's Diane Rehm and To the Point, and C-SPAN's Washington Journal. He lives in Alexandria with his wife and two children. Twitter: @glubold

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